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WATCH: All Blacks developing a team for 2023 Rugby World Cup, says Sean Fitzpatrick

FILE - All Blacks head coach Ian Foster gestures during a captain's run at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, last November, on the eve of their autumn international rugby union test match against France. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

FILE - All Blacks head coach Ian Foster gestures during a captain's run at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, last November, on the eve of their autumn international rugby union test match against France. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Published Mar 4, 2022

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Cape Town — After the All Blacks lost two consecutive matches last November, coach Ian Foster came under fire from the New Zealand media as the Kiwis recorded their worst season since 2009.

Never mind that it was still a decent record of 12 wins and three defeats in 2021, compared to Graham Henry’s 2009 outfit that won 14 and lost four — three of those to Peter de Villiers’ Springboks.

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But it was the manner of the losses to Ireland (29-20) and France (40-25) that stung the most, with Foster’s selection and game plan coming under scrutiny.

One of the most contentious situations is whether Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga should be the first-choice flyhalf, while Jordie Barrett is also seemingly the starting fullback these days.

The pack of forwards lost the physical battle against the Irish and the French as well, while there are question marks around the make-up of the loose trio, centres and back-three combinations.

Former captain Sean Fitzpatrick, though, believes that Foster is on the right track for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, where New Zealand will look to regain their title — having won in 2011 and 2015 — after the Boks clinched the 2019 tournament in Japan.

“I think he (Foster) knows where he’s going, that’s for sure. We’re 18 months out from the World Cup, and traditionally, we haven’t worked in four-year cycles. Every year we try to pick the best team to win the (Rugby) Championship, or whatever tour we’re on,” Fitzpatrick said this week during an online press conference for the Laureus World Sports Awards, where he is the chairman of the Laureus Academy.

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“Now, we are actually developing a team for the World Cup. In terms of what the All Black fans expect, we had a pretty disappointing year last year, losing three games.

“But ultimately, we exposed a lot of young players to international rugby, where I think in 2019, where we lost to the English, we got a little bit exposed in the white heat of battle. Some of those players had never been in that environment before — the intensity level of the World Cup. So, I’m pretty relaxed.

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“We’re disappointed that Super Rugby is not turning out like it should be, in terms of the competition that that’s going to bring. We will probably have a clearer idea in the summer, when we play an in-form Irish team in a series.”

That three-Test series against Ireland in July — at Eden Park in Auckland, Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin and Sky Stadium in Wellington — is shaping up to be a thriller, with revenge sure to be on the minds of the All Blacks following their November loss in Dublin.

New Zealand will then take on the Springboks in two Rugby Championship showdowns in August, in Mbombela and Johannesburg.

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Ireland have started the Six Nations well, beating Wales 29-7 and Italy 57-6, although they went down 30-24 to France.

“The overriding message that’s coming through this Six Nations is that Ireland and Wales are quite clearly ahead of the game at the moment. I really like what I’m seeing from the French — they seem fit, seem organised, seem to have a culture of success,” Fitzpatrick said.

“They seem to be playing for each other, which is great, and they’re young, which is a key ingredient going forward. If you look at who won the World Cup in the past, they have a degree of youth, a degree of experience, but they have depth in their numbers. If I mention Ireland and France, they’ve got all that going for them.

“I was in New Zealand, watching the (previous) games at five and six o’clock live, and there is a huge following in New Zealand — I must say — watching what’s going on up here. The New Zealanders didn’t have a great autumn, losing to France and Ireland, so there is a lot of anticipation in terms of what’s going to happen in the next 12 months.

“So, everybody is interested in watching the rugby coming out of Europe at the moment — be it the French Top 14, the Premiership… And the feeling is that the quality of the rugby is a lot better than in the past, and that is a reflection on what we are seeing in the Six Nations.

“We realise we (the All Blacks) have a bit of work to do to catch up, and the situation with the Super Rugby situation and with Covid is not helping us in terms of developing our young talent, to be ready to play the Irish in the summer, let alone the World Cup in 18 months’ time.”

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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